Let this sink in: In about 48 hours, the DA could be governing the five largest of South Africa’s eight metropolitan municipalities. The DA may be the biggest winner of the day, but this was also a brutal flexing of the muscles by the EFF to the ANC on the road to 2024.
And in three of these cities, the mayors could be women.
Monday came as close as possible to a political earthquake when all the country’s largest opposition parties, irrespective of creed or ideology, rallied around the DA to land the ANC its biggest political defeat since 1994.
In one fell swoop, the DA’s candidates for mayor and speaker were elected in Johannesburg (Mayor Mpho Phalatse) and Ekurhuleni (Mayor Tania Campbell). On Wednesday, the party expects to install Nicole Graham as mayor of eThekwini.
Luck on DA’s side
The DA couldn’t believe its luck. The party, having refused to do any formal coalition deals with any other party, hoped for a best-case scenario of running Tshwane with Mayor Randall Williams for the next five years alongside its flagship, Cape Town. This election takes place on Tuesday.
But a culmination of the ANC refusing to budge to the EFF’s demands; IFP councillors going rogue and disobeying the party’s voting deal with the ANC, and the EFF and ActionSA seeing through a promise to their voters that they would keep the ANC out of power meant the DA gained almost all the spoils.
The DA’s Mpho Phalatse was elected mayor of Johannesburg on Monday night. She won 144 seats while the ANC received 121 votes.
As much as the DA would like to take credit for convincing the smaller parties that they could govern better than the ANC at municipal level, this had much more to do with the ANC than the DA.
Take the case of EFF leader Julius Malema. Less than a week ago, he threatened an EFF councillor who voted for a DA candidate in the Matzikama Municipality with the wrath of his ancestors.
“He will know if his ancestors are powerful or not after this press conference because no one votes according to his conscience. The people who want to vote according to their own conscience form their own smallanyana parties everywhere in South Africa and no one is bothering them.
Nothing to do with conscience
“If you want to be in the EFF and represent the EFF you will follow the party line,” Malema famously said. If a day is a long time in politics, a week is an eternity.
Let’s be clear: his instruction to his councillors countrywide to vote for the DA has nothing to do with his conscience, but everything with political strategy. This was classic Malema, keeping everyone waiting till the end and landing a surprise blow.
He will be lambasted by the ANC’s losers for voting with the “white party”. Some within his own party will not be happy. But this is what I think happened.
The ANC, this time led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, treated the EFF with absolute disdain in its attempts to form governing coalitions in the hung metros.
After arriving with a long list of demands, that included changing its policy on expropriation without compensation, removing Die Stem from the national anthem, creating a state bank and nationalising the Reserve Bank, the ANC showed them the door.
Realising the governing party still needed a deal with at least one biggish opposition party, Ramaphosa is alleged to have cut a deal with the IFP’s long-time spiritual leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
Was the ANC too arrogant in not pushing harder for coalitions agreements with smaller parties in all these metros? Why did the ANC think they could count on the EFF in Ekurhuleni after showing them the door?
A hard lesson
At this early stage, I believe the EFF, and to a lesser degree ActionSA and a section of the IFP, wanted to teach the ANC a hard lesson as a precursor to the critical 2024 national and provincial elections.
“If you refuse to work with us, look what we can do. Would you like the DA to govern the country in 2024?” could have been Malema’s thinking when he decided to go with the DA, this time.
In 2024, when the ANC is expected to dip below 50% in its national support, there will be a new round of negotiations and deals on the table. The pain of 2021 will be fresh in the ANC’s minds.
There should be no illusion that Malema and the DA found each other overnight. The EFF despises everything about the DA and what the party stands for. And the feeling is mutual.
More freedom to govern
Phalatse, Campbell and potentially Graham will find out soon enough what the EFF wants in turn for its votes on this historic Monday. They will need the red berets to have their budgets passed and make key appointments, like that of municipal manager.
Ironically, the DA refused to work with the EFF when it walked away from the multiparty coalition deal that would have seen Herman Mashaba taking the Joburg mayorship. But the party of John Steenhuisen will now be forced to deal with Malema’s colleagues when they need majority votes in council.
Without any formal agreements in place, the DA will have more freedom to govern as it wishes for the next five years. It has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show the residents of Ekurhuleni, eThekwini and Johannesburg what it can deliver and erode the ANC’s support even further on the road to 2024.